If you’ve taken an introductory course in Sociology or Anthropology in the past 50 years, you might have learned about the Nacirema tribe of North America. The Nacirema were made famous by the anthropologist Horace Miner who described the tribe in his 1956 article “Body Ritual among the Nacirema.”
They are a North American group living in the territory between the Canadian Cree, the Yaqui and Tarahumare of Mexico, and the Carib and Arawak of the Antilles…According to Nacirema mythology, their nation was originated by a culture hero, Notgnihsaw, who is otherwise known for two great feats of strength – the throwing of a piece of wampum across the river Pa-To-Mac and the chopping down of a cherry tree in which the Spirit of Truth resided.
If you didn’t notice, “Nacirema” is “American” backwards. And “Notgnihsaw?” That would be “Washington.” Miner wrote a fake article to critique a real problem of the distance put between anthropologists and the contemporary cultures they studied. In his article, he also described the cultural peculiarities of the Nacirema, noting the peculiar beauty standards of the real Americans.
You get the idea, but the whole article is worth a read (and it’s not that long).
And why am I talking about this? Well, when I read this next article ((This was shared with me on Twitter by my friend Lorelei. Thanks, Lorelei!)), I couldn’t help but think that it was making the same point about accessibility today. It describes the steps one takes to help a sighted person—that is, someone with full use of their eyes—everyday. It blends obviousness with condescension, and it mimics the tone of many tips about helping unsighted people.
Sighted people are accustomed to viewing the world in visual terms. This means that in many situations, they will not be able to communicate orally and may resort to pointing or other gesturing. Subtle facial expressions may also be used to convey feelings in social situations. Calmly alert the sighted person to his surroundings by speaking slowly, in a normal tone of voice.
This article is not explicitly about web design, but as someone who cares about accessibility, it’s easy to see how it relates, and I certainly hope I keep this article in mind as I move forward in my discussions of accessibility. And just as accessibility isn’t only about unsighted people, it’s easy to see how this article could be about almost any group of people, like “technologically-impaired people” aka people who don’t spend as much time on computers as us website builders do aka normal website users. In the end, everything boils down to this: we’re all people.